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Chicken Feet for Thanksgiving

Tradition and ritual, especially during the holidays, signal security and family pride. And if you get creative, they just might reflect your distinct personalities, too.

by Kristin Castiglione

As vegetarians, our family usually enjoys a nontraditional feast for Thanksgiving. A typical Thanksgiving dinner for us would consist of meatless lasagna, a vegetable, salad, and pumpkin pie.

Last August, my husband, Pete, and I adopted two teenage siblings, Matthew and Sara, from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, China. They like to eat meat, and we don't discourage them.

This year we decided to let Matthew and Sara experience their first "true" Thanksgiving dinner. When we told them that we were going to prepare a turkey, they shook their heads in horror and explained that they were afraid of the turkey. So we put our heads together to decide our menu. Matthew and Pete agreed to make a Chinese dish, Sara (with Pete's help) would make a sweet potato casserole, and I would steam rice and make pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie. Pete and I have acquired a taste for Chinese food, so this menu sounded quite good to us.

At the last minute though, Matthew said there was one additional dish he would like to have-chicken feet! He explained that chicken feet are a delicacy in China. At this point, Jenna, our six-year-old, chimed in and declared that she had enjoyed chicken feet, too. (She was four when we adopted her from China.) She wanted to try them again. Well, what could I say? As long as Matthew agreed to make them (he promised me that they wouldn't smell while cooking), I figured the least I could do was to go along. But no way would I agree to eat them.

Pete found chicken feet at a local Chinese market. They were so large, he only bought six. On Thanksgiving morning, we all went about our tasks. Matthew wasn't quite sure how to cook the chicken feet. We decided to boil them and add Chinese spices as they boiled. For those of you who have never seen cooked chicken feet, let me tell you that they expand when cooked. Six chicken feet filled a three-quart saucepan! I should also mention that the claws are on the feet when you buy them.

All the food was placed on the table, and we sat down to eat our first Thanksgiving meal since becoming a family of six. Five-year-old Maia (also adopted from China), a vegetarian like us, took one look at the chicken feet and said that she thought she was going to throw up. When Jenna saw them, her eyes got as big as saucers, and she said, "Mommy, do I really have to eat them?" Meanwhile, Matthew and Sara began piling chicken feet on their plates. There is definitely an art to eating them. Matthew put the claw in his mouth, pulled it out of the foot, and spit it onto his plate! We are not sure whether the feet were too spicy or just not cooked correctly, but Sara only ate one and Matthew, two. For some reason, the bowl of feet ended up next to my plate. Every time I looked down at my rice and vegetables, all I could see were those long-toed feet! After three bites, I had to put tinfoil over the dish.

Other than the chicken feet, our Thanksgiving meal was a success. Before we try chicken feet again (and I hope it's not for a long, long time), we'll find a recipe for cooking them properly. As I gazed around the table, I realized that this Thanksgiving we truly do have so much to be thankful for.

Kristin Castiglione and her husband, Pete, run Children's Hope International in Phoenix, Arizona, where they live with their family.

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